By ALLISON HORE
A political mural in Marrickville was defaced on Thursday night, less than 24 hours after it was painted.
The mural titled, ‘Vote or Die – Deal with the devil’, depicted US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Scott shaking hands atop a pile of skulls. However, the mural was washed over with white paint over just hours after being completed.
The street artist behind the work, Crisp, told City Hub the mural is about Australia’s deals with the US as well as the nations’ responses to climate change.
“In the end it results in suffering and death and inequality on different levels and some of these deals support different regimes and different wars,” he explained.
“The flames in the background highlight the dangers of climate change, one of the most important issues at the moment, and I don’t think either of the leaders in Australia or the US take it as seriously as they should.”
He made the design based on a still from when President Trump and Prime Minister Morrison met. Crisp said he had been sitting on the design for a while but hadn’t had the opportunity to go out and paint it due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation and his work in the healthcare system.
Another obstacle in getting the artwork up was finding a place to paint it. Crisp said that compared to other places around the world where he has painted, it is much harder to find walls to paint political pieces in Sydney.
“I find in Sydney that everyone is fine with aesthetically pleasing or pretty murals but everyone is really afraid of offending people and if it’s political they don’t want to have anything to do with it,” he said.
In the end Crisp decided to go over a mural that he had already done, a collaboration with another artist he painted with the permission of the building’s owner. Crisp said that he had permission to paint in the same spot again but didn’t say what it was he intended to paint. After the building owner found out what the artwork actually was, Crisp knew its stay would be limited.
“I think he was already getting phone calls from people who had an issue with Trump and Morrison on the wall, so I think in the end he was discussing that he might have to paint over it,” he said.
After talking with the owner of the building, he agreed to let the artwork stay up for a day to allow street art aficionados to see it in person and take photos of it. The owner then intended to paint over the artwork in black paint to match the wall behind it. However, overnight it was haphazardly covered in white paint by an unknown member of the community.
“I spent the whole day painting it and put the time and money and creativity into creating it, but it looks like someone’s just gone in there overnight who disagrees with it and completely defaced it,” he said.
“You can tell by the way it was covered up that it was pretty slap-dash and quite quickly done.”
The Streisand effect
Crisp says if someone is a supporter of these leaders or disagrees with the message that he’s sending it’s “fair enough” and he understands painting over the artwork could in itself be an act of protest. But it’s “disappointing” to him that someone couldn’t tolerate the art being up for less than 24 hours before destroying it.
But the irony of the censorship efforts leading to more publicity for the work wasn’t lost on Crisp. He said while he hadn’t thought about it like that before, in retrospect it has been a good way to get more exposure for the piece and discuss the issues it raises.
“If it hadn’t been painted over it would have been really localised in terms of who would’ve seen it. Just people passing by in the inner-west area, but now it’s been pushed on social media and gone semi-viral so a lot more people are seeing it and commenting on it,” he said.
Crisp isn’t the only street artist who has had his political works “censored”.
Controversial artist Scott Marsh has made headlines on a number of occasions both when his art has gone up and when it is taken down. Most recently, an eyebrow-raising Scott Morrison mural Marsh painted in Chippendale was covered up in a wall of grey only a day after being completed.
In the piece, Prime Minister Morrison was depicted in a Christmas hat and Hawaiian shirt in front of a wall of flames, with a speech bubble saying “Merry crisis”.
“There’s always the risk that someone’s gonna take offence and paint over it, it’s a shame that it did because I think a lot of people were enjoying it,” Marsh told the Guardian at the time.
For street artists, works being covered up or taken down is to be expected. While aesthetically pleasing and instagram friendly works often have a longer lifespan, political ones tend to disappear the fastest. Crisp worries that “the true nature of street art” as a form of protest or to make statements about things that aren’t covered in mainstream media is being lost in the process.
“When you think about how many political murals there are in Sydney you could probably count them on one hand,” he said.
“I think if we get rid of all this political art it makes the environment very sterile and it becomes a slippery slope into censorship.”